Altum Angelfish

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Pterophyllum altum - Pellegrin, 1903
Altum Angelfish

The largest and perhaps the most-beautiful freshwater angel. Jeff Kubina/Creative Commons


A Holy Grail species among serious freshwater aquarists, the Altum Angelfish is considered by many the most beautiful and stately of the freshwater angelfishes.

A challenge to breed in captivity, this is a species sometimes available as a rare import from the wild.

Reaching a dramatic 13-15 in. (33-38 cm) in height, it requires a tall tank and, like Discus, expert care and attention to water quality.

Contrary to early accounts, it is found in the Amazon River basin and upper Rio Negro, in addition to the Orinoco River where it was first found by ichthyologists. (A so-called wild strain marketed as the "Peruvian Altum" is, in fact, a variant of the more common Pterophyllum scalare.) See: Pterophyllum.

While juveniles can be kept in 20-30 gal. (76-118 L) tanks, adults will require a large aquarium at least 30 in. (76 cm) deep to accommodate their extraordinary height.

Family: Cichlidae

Other common name(s):

  • Deep Angelfish
  • Altum Angel
  • Orinoco Angelfish

Native range:

Habitat: They do best in an environment of tall green plants (Amazon Swords, Vallisneria, and the like) and driftwood for shelter.

Maximum length: 18 cm (7 in)

Maximum height: 38 cm (15 in)

Minimum aquarium size: 208 L (55 gal)

Water: Freshwater 27 °C (81 °F) - 29 °C (84 °F)

General swimming level: Midwater.


Carnivore. Offer a variety of meaty foods: brine and Mysis shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, Daphnia. and high-quality rations containing color enhancers.

Aquarium Compatibility

Best kept in a deep species tank.
Best kept in a species tank with few or no other tankmates. (Several Corydoras catfish may be added, as they are peaceful and generally keep to themselves on the bottom of the tank.)

Special Care

Provide soft, peat-filtered water and do regular 20-percent weekly water changes.

Wild-caught fish may require deworming and treatment for parasites. A very informative article by Richard Thompson, who uses food laced with tetracycline and furazone for new imports, is found here: The Altum Angel by Richard Thompson.


Seldom bred in captivity. Enthusiasts hope to replace some of the demand for pricey wild-caught specimens with captive-bred Altum Angelfish.


Young Altum with typical noteworthy vertical orientation.

Altum Angels are distinguished from "P. scalare" by having a more vertical orientation, elongated fins, a concave forehead, and the presence of a vertical band (or trace of a band) between the eye band and the band at the front of the dorsal fin.

See We're No Angels for further keeping advice.

Image credit: JJ
Text credit: JL